"PEOPLE! your chains are severing link by link..."
618. In his semi-conscious haze, Daimon was temporarily confused by the numbers. A few seconds passed before he realized what he was looking at. The clock said 6:18, twelve minutes before the alarm would ring. Twelve minutes was not enough time to relapse into slumber, so Daimon began his morning routine early: ironing slacks, eating high-fiber cereal, and gulping dark coffee before leaving his modest one bedroom apartment for Atweis Insurance.
Daimon hated his job. Who in his right mind would ever say that he wanted to be an insurance salesman when he grew up? Not that Daimon was a full representative; he was an underling, copying reports, filing data sheets, and cold calling, usually when he felt the least sociable or empowered to clinch a sale. He would never want a stranger to bully him into spending precious money on something that he didn't want, so why would anyone welcome a call from him?
The thought momentarily sapped his energy, making him want to melt into his office chair in despair and fatigue. Had he gotten enough sleep last night? He faintly recalled a dream about climbing red walls of dead animals and seeing reflections of himself atop a plain overlooking a throbbing sea. His echo selves had begun converging upon him at the edge of a sea cliff when he had awoken, grudgingly turning over to see the time.
No. The robbing of twelve minutes worth of slumber was obviously not the cause of his ennui. Daimon's mind wandered to the computer monitor, an archaic bulky box projecting an outdated operating system displaying itself in green letters flickering atop a dead black background. What was he supposed to be doing? Checking current prospects? The rectangular cursor blinked off and on, impatiently awaiting orders.
Daimon could hear Bill Atweis, his boss, singing his sales pitch to someone on the other end of the phone. "Gooood morning," Bill crooned, "Hey, I betcha like saving money. Who doesn't! Well, I just wanted to let you know..."
Daimon rolled his eyes. Had he been the customer on the other line, he would have hung up on Bill. Maybe this was because Daimon had to suffer Bill's company eight hours a day, but he still could not imagine a call from Bill making anyone's day brighter. Nevertheless, Bill always commented that the general public was "not uninterested, only uninformed." Bill had many of these clever quips, which boiled down slices of the human experience into convenient, politically correct soundbytes. To Bill, one was not "dumb"; one only made "the top 75% of her class possible." One was not a "jerk"; one just had "sharp teeth." A favorite of his involved the addition of a kind of charade - pressing down and twisting his thumbs against the flat surface - to signify "putting the screws to it," meaning to work shrewdly and exhaustively. Daimon wondered if Bill communicated this way at home. Did Bill's whole family speak in aphorisms and cliches?
The question would have to remain unanswered, since Barbara, Bill's insurance apprentice, was waddling her way toward Daimon.
"I have some good news," Barbara began. Good. Most of the time, she was full of bad news: usually about her health. "We need an illustration for a Roi. Thought you might be interested."
"Absolutely," Daimon sincerely responded. A Roi was a "Rider of Interest," a supplemental insurance flier that would be mailed to all Atweis Insurance customers. Instead of using clip art for the pictures that peppered the paper, the privately owned company used in-house talent, namely Daimon, who had studied art in college, once upon a time.
With roller-ruler, .3 pencil, and sketch pad in hand, Daimon exited the cool office and slammed into the oppressive, muggy summer air. The black asphalt of the parking lot cooked beneath his shoes, and the heat slowly seeped into his khakis from the curb upon which he sat. Using his own red pickup truck as a model, Daimon began simplifying its forms into basic shapes. Rectangles, circles, and triangles danced on his page, evolving and sending lines to each other like spiders sending webs across vacuous space. Scribbling on the page, Daimon twitched his eyes back and forth, scanning the truck and flitting to the paper like they were flipping animation pages. Soon, the front end of his truck was on the page, and he began adding body damage to one of the corners. The Roi was about minor damage when the driver was not at fault, so he needed to add destruction to his otherwise worn but stable truck. On the driver's side, he added a dent in the bumper, which sent creases outward, cracking the headlight and buckling the hood. After a few minutes of shading, the picture was done, and he returned to the office.
“What number do you want this filed under?” Daimon asked, waving the picture in the air.
Barbara squinted at the page, momentarily uncertain about the subject of Daimon’s question. Once she realized what it pertained to, she said, “Oh! It’s a 0618.”
“Heh,” Daimon snickered, pausing shortly before opening the beige file cabinet, one of many lining the wall between his desk and Barbara's.
“That was the time on my clock this morning.”
"That's weird," Barbara placated.
The rest of the day oozed forward rather uneventfully. Between filling out reports, Daimon heard a song on the in-house radio that reminded him of a childhood moment, when the same song played on his parents' radio while he watched them get ready for work, his mother donning scrubs and his father sliding up his tie, back when they had still been together. Other than that, the afternoon was a repeat of the last, and soon, the day was done.
Bill was on the phone as usual, so Daimon said a perfunctory goodbye to Barbara, exited the office, and pulled out of the parking lot. It was strange to turn right onto the main street instead of left. He had told his brother that he would visit after work to get fitted for the wedding. As a result, the tangerine sun unexpectedly assaulted his eyes as he drove westward. He slipped on some sunglasses, which reduced the intensity and palled the color, but the washout effect was still there. After a few blocks, Daimon reached across the cab to slide down the passenger side visor, hoping that the screen would decrease the brightness.
Suddenly a black silhouette with hands defensively upraised appeared in the road. Daimon slammed both of his feet onto the brake pad, and he sucked in air as though a deep breath would avert the collision. Time slowed, and Daimon's senses intensified. He saw his empty coffee thermos eject from its compartment and bang against the lower portion of the dashboard, sending warm brown droplets pattering against the vinyl and releasing the smell of hazelnut into the cab. The strobing of the sun through the trees and houses slowed to the massaging rhythm of a tide. He felt his dark hair slide forward across his scalp as inertia asserted itself. Smoke bubbled on both sides of his truck while his tires screamed in defiance, peeling their outer layers against the steaming tar.
Daimon instinctively jerked the wheel to the right, towards the ditch. The back end of his vehicle crept forward and to the left. For the briefest of moments, he thought he saw some sort of blanket billow behind the man in the road before the man's hand met the corner of Daimon's vehicle.
The truck bed bucked upwards like a bull trying to eject its rider. Daimon's head slammed against the steering wheel. A shattering spider's web spat up the windshield and burst into glittering shards of knives. His head ricocheted back and bumped against the headrest. Then the world spun sickeningly to the right, blurring like a blender.
He didn't know if he passed out, but it certainly seemed like he lost time. Though he felt like he was still moving, Daimon's truck was stationary. Grey smoke, smelling of burnt rubber, wavered on the outer side of the windows. His head ached dully, throbbing like the spinning beam of a lighthouse. A clicking sound alerted Daimon to his own actions; he had opened the door. Shaking, he exited the vehicle and scanned the area. The truck straddled the street and the ditch. He immediately looked for the pedestrian who received the brunt of the collision, but no such person was visible. Daimon saw the road, a nearby mailbox, a distant light post, and a fast-food bag tumbling across the street, but no victim. In fact, he saw nothing in the immediate area that he could have run into.
Had he imagined a person in the road?
If so, what had he hit? Had he hit anything?
Daimon turned back to his truck. The driver's side bumper was dented. From its center sprung five valleys, as though the palm of a single hand had obstructed the truck's passage, its fingers clenching the metal body. The picture Daimon had drawn only hours before flipped across his mind. The damage lied in the same location of his truck.
"What the hell?" he said to himself, bewildered by the coincidence.
Daimon fell to the ground, searching the underbelly of his truck, but all he saw was steam. Whatever he had hit had disappeared.
Shaking his head, Daimon scanned the nearby area. Traffic had stopped in consideration, and Daimon waved them on. He wouldn't call the police or even submit a claim; the situation was just too strange. He would just jump back into his truck and continue to his brother's house. The entire situation felt surreal. He felt like the explanation must be right in front of him; he just wasn't seeing it. Confused and a little afraid, Daimon slowly shook his head.
As he walked towards his vehicle, he noticed a strange number on the nearest mailbox along the road: 618.